I’ve took to defending Teesside on here before as hometowns are always going to carry a hefty amount of emotional weight, and having lived in Middlesbrough proper from 2007—2011 (and in the surrounding areas for most of my life) I do tend to get my heckles up when someone takes a jab.
As a town, we’re still living in the shadow of 2009’s ‘Worst Place To Live’ title, bestowed upon us from the blundering housey-set duo of Kirsty and Phil and next up to take a stab is Evening Standard journo Lucy Tobin.
Yes, the economy is still pretty ropey, hospitals could be better, Jimmy Savile could never have been born. But we could be living in the Congo. Or Middlesbrough. Things could be worse.
It may seem innocuous at first but on reflection it’s a ludicrous and myopic barb that is completely unnecessary, and has little relevance to the piece. The link-baiting inclusion of paedo du-jour Jimmy Savile is doing nothing for the credibility of this quote either. Though what Tobin probably intended was an off-the-cuff remark about quality of living, actually equates to her saying that a Northern steel town is on par with a serial sex offender who has allegedly molested hundreds of under-age girls, and a republic that suffers unparalleled child mortality, child labour and domestic abuse rates. Even if equating to Middlesbrough to either of those things made any sense whatsoever, it would still be wrong.
Tobin isn’t the only person who can ‘look something up’; I too exhausted all my investigative journalist skills and googled the same phrase. I found a Daily Mail piece on how unfortunately named ‘Shitterton’ is, another Daily Mail article dating back four years noting that the town of Middlesbrough had lost its claim to Ofcom and that Location Location Location special had not been ‘unfair’ in its depiction of Middlesbrough. The third result was a recent article from this year’s Wellbeing Survey, saying that Thurrock, Essex is in fact recorded the lowest levels of satisfaction in the UK.
So Tobin deliberately chose Middlesbrough to pick on as it was in the line of best fit for her cheap little jibe, ignoring newer evidence and an arguably funnier name to include in her piece just for yuks.
Understandably the people of Middlesbrough were none-too-happy about this needless jab and took to twitter and berated her for being a ‘dog’ and a ‘c*nt’ — I’m not aligning myself with these people. Though Tobin demonstrated lazy journalism, not just for the human interest fluff piece it appeared on, or the google searching she used to fact check, or that she even thought to cheapen said fluff piece with an unprovoked school-yard jab at a Northern town’s expense. Lazy, ignorant with an enormous sense of privilege? yes. Cunt? no.
Then this guy gets involved. Andrew Neather, the comments editor for The Evening Standard — The same paper that sparked this storm in a tea-cup over an aside in an otherwise sterling article about smiling on the tube. Shown above is Andrew Neather reducing 200,000 people in one tweet to ‘dim provincial twats’ —which is apparently much worse than a minority of the town taking to social media to cuss out Tobin.
difference is, we don’t give a toss what u think of our town. Think we’d bother responding to a col in yr paper?
He’s right! Middlesbrough has much more to lose than London, so we will respond to a col in r paper! And we do give a toss what u think! Neather’s devil-may-care attitude to the opinions of others packs about as much punch as if he’d just tweeted “I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?”
Neather then goes on to say that though Tobin made a snap judgement, pigeonholing a town she’s never been to; he’d never be so foolish, as he visited Middlesbrough once before and could only describe it as ‘apocalyptic.’ Personally, I would call the destruction after the 2011 Japan Tsunami ‘apocalyptic’ or the aftermath of a Syrian air raid, or if we want to be really topical, Sandy’s destruction of Breezy Point, but that is just silly of me.
The Daily Mail article this was based on states these points as reasons why Middlesbrough is such an apocalyptic cess-pit full of dim provincial twats: ‘critical health levels, double the English average of drug abuse, 8 per cent more smokers than the English average and over a quarter of inhabitants admitted to binge drinking’. ‘Ninety per cent of the residents never exercise and few eat healthily. . .robbery, burglary, sexual assault, violent crimes and car theft are all more than twice the UK average.’
The exact data used here by Channel 4 was shielded from a Freedom of Information Request as it would breach ‘Journalistic Immunity’ for documentaries, even though the program wasn’t judged too harshly by Ofcom for using footage of derelict buildings in neighbouring towns and passing it off as Middlesbrough as the program was ‘entertainment’ and not factual. Chris Banatvala, director of standards at Ofcom even declared the statistic that “Ninety per cent of the residents never exercise” as simply “wrong.”
I’m not trying to say Middlesbrough is some kind of Northern utopian idyll, far from it, I lived two doors down from a kid with an ASBO and he regularly broke into the garden and shat in my washing, but that could happen anywhere. Even on the Evening Standard’s own doorstep.
Middlesbrough may have 8% more smokers than the national average, even though exact data isn’t exactly forthcoming, they do have an alarmingly high rate of female smokers at 25%, but the North East’s total is far less than the North West or Yorkshire & The Humber. The claim that ‘few [residents] eat healthily’ also doesn’t stand up when probed, as part of the governments Change For Life scheme, The Northeast is the highest achieving region in the whole of the UK in their Healthy Schools Initiative.
Middlesbrough sits outside of the top ten worst places for crime in the UK , and of the top ten, six are London constituencies. London also have a monopoly on the top twenty worst constituencies for child poverty in the UK with twelve of the top twenty.
34% of all children born in Middlesbrough are classed as being under the poverty line, where as 57% of children born in Bethnal Green and Bow will be poverty stricken. A Percentage higher than that of even the worst areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where on average 54% of children are born into poverty.
The national average for Child Mortality is 5 deaths per 1000 under the age of one. Though the North East has a 20% higher general mortality rate than any other region, its child mortality rate still clocks in at 4.4, lower than the national average, and much lower Enfield’s 6. Of course both of these numbers pale in comparison to the Congo’s 61/1000, but only a fool would compare them…
It’s just a thought, but maybe journalists shouldn’t make rash decisions about an area —such as writing off 200,000 people as dim provincial twats with the stroke of a tweet— based on out-dated, cloudy, and inaccessible data. Maybe even stick to writing human interest stories about a tube attendent without slagging off an entire township. But maybe the people of Middlesbrough should all be a bit less defensive next time somebody with no knowledge or experience of day-to-day life in our fair town decides to slate it out of sheer ignorance, after all, it could be worse, we could live in Shitterton.